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How is it that some people can accomplish so much in their careers? What’s the secret to finding the right path? As OIWC continues to explore the topic of career development, we turn for inspiration to an industry leader who has forged her own way.
Arlene Blum was just 25 years old when she participated in the first Denali expedition comprised of an all-female team. As deputy leader, Blum helped organize the climb, but didn’t anticipate the trip turning out as it did. While on the summit, the trip leader collapsed and fell unconscious, leaving Blum to make major decisions in a hurry.
The team got the woman off the mountain safely, and in the process, Blum stepped into a leadership role that would become a constant during her mountaineering career.
“The Denali experience transformed me from a young woman of 25 enjoying her first adventures into a woman who could lead complex expeditions with confidence,” said Blum.
In fact, Blum said the rescue gave her the self-assurance to lead the first American and all-women team to Annapurna I.
“Big adversities provide opportunities for us to step up and share our strengths, and see what we’re made of,” she said, adding that this philosophy applies to business as well as a mountaintop. “Take the opportunity to do something new. You’ll become more confident each time you do, which will help you get to where you want to be.”
Clearly, Blum sets lofty goals for herself. In addition to paving the way for women mountaineers, she was instrumental in helping ban two cancer-causing chemicals and the pesticide DBCP while a chemist at UC Berkeley. Today, she continues her environmental endeavors as head of the Green Science Policy Institute (http://greensciencepolicy.org).
To fulfill her goals, Blum said her process begins with a vision. “I come up with an idea that I really want to do. An idea that I feel very passionate about.” She advises women in the outdoor industry to find their vision for the future, something they’re passionate about, as having passion can be a key factor in success.
Next, she makes a plan to take her from point A to where she wants to be. For women setting their career goals, this may mean developing a five-year plan or even just outlining — and mastering — the skills required for the next job they’d like to secure.
And, Blum said, never give up on your goals. “In mountaineering, as in business, there are always avalanches or other obstacles that will slow you down. That’s OK. My advice is to take it step by step and be persistent, and you will get to where you want to be.”
To succeed in a leadership role, Blum said she surrounds herself with a trusted team that shares her passion and ideals. Her team-building approach actually involves some tests to make sure she gets along with everyone, and that everyone wants to be there. “If you do some pre-tests, like a practice project, people actually self-select,” she said. “They’ll get to see if it’s their thing or not, and will stick with it if it is.”
While most of us don’t have the flexibility to choose our teams in the workplace, those in leadership roles can help ensure their team’s success by empowering them with decision-making authority. Give team members a challenge that’s important, said Blum, so they can demonstrate their abilities. “Being a good leader means giving people opportunities to show you what they can do, and then balancing their skills with what the team needs.”
Conversely, for women who aren’t currently managers, a next step may be to ask for more responsibility and take on new challenges. As Blum said, “If you think of all the great presidents, they served during hard times, which required them to step up to the tasks at hand.”
If you’re prepping for a trek on the corporate ladder, click here to learn more about career development and share your thoughts on the OIWC blog.
To read more about Blum, check out her latest book, “Breaking Trail,” at www.arleneblum.com.
This monthly column, a partnership between OIWC and SNEWS®, aims to address the issues that concern women in the industry most — anything that is controversial, topical or newsworthy relating to women and the outdoors. The goal is to help, educate, inspire and grow. We welcome your ideas, gripes, thoughts and comments. Bring it on. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laura Loftus is a writer and partner at Neighborhood All-Stars (www.neighborhoodallstars.com), a small design boutique.